Vick made the right read on this one

Michael Vick canceled a TV appearance that reportedly was to include people who have adopted Vick's dogs.
Michael Vick canceled a TV appearance that reportedly was to include people who have adopted Vick's dogs.
Posted: February 18, 2011

Michael Vick finally figured out how to slide to avoid a big hit.

The Eagles quarterback reversed himself, telling producers for The Oprah Winfrey Show that, come to think of it, he isn't ready for a sit-down with Herself next week.

These are interesting times for the Eagles and their newly franchise-tagged quarterback. The team took a relatively small financial risk when the shocking decision was made to sign Vick two summers ago. The much larger risk was the public-relations storm that followed the signing.

Vick and the Eagles weathered that as well as the bizarre birthday party last June that ended with his old friend and dogfighting coconspirator, Quanis Phillips, taking a bullet in the leg. The financial risk rose along with Vick's profile as a player. He made about $5 million and established himself as the starting QB; an MVP candidate; and, finally, NFL comeback player of the year.

On Tuesday, by applying the franchise tag to Vick, the Eagles raised their financial stake to roughly $16 million for 2011. If, as expected, they negotiate a new long-term deal, that total will be more like $30 million or $40 million.

Every long-term contract for a professional athlete carries a certain amount of risk. Players get hurt. Players underperform. Other circumstances can undermine even players who perform as expected when they get a big deal.

Vick carries all those concerns, plus one very significant additional worry. He is one public mistake from being kicked out of the NFL for good. The Eagles may be able to write contract language that protects them from such an occurrence, but that wouldn't cover the damage to the franchise on and off the field if this gamble goes bad.

So it was with a hard swallow that the Eagles heard Vick had agreed to sit down with Oprah, who made a public wager with CNN's Piers Morgan over who could land the QB first. The risk/reward was obvious. Get Winfrey's influential approval and Vick would take another large step toward completing his comeback from the abyss.

But what if it went bad? What if audience members - many of whom may be immune to Vick's charms on the field - turned hostile? What if Winfrey and her producers decided it would be good television to bring one of the dogs rescued from his Bad Newz Kennelz onto the set? Some of the people who have adopted those dogs have been very critical of Vick; what if one of them caused Vick to lose his composure or, worse, his temper?

Still, the Eagles gave their approval. Vick's willingness to address what he did has been a big part of his image rehabilitation. If he thought this was the right thing to do, then fine. But that doesn't mean there wasn't a sigh of relief when Vick called the team Wednesday to say that he had changed his mind. The appearance was off.

The reason wasn't immediately clear, but USA Today confirmed through Winfrey's Harpo Productions that families with adopted Vick dogs "reached out to us" in order to appear with Vick.

There is little good that can come of that scenario, for Vick or for the Eagles. The risk outweighed the possible reward.

Things will take another turn if the NFL locks out its players when the collective bargaining agreement expires March 3. Commissioner Roger Goodell made a big deal last summer about creating a better support system for Vick. Presumably, that will change during a lockout, when teams are not allowed to be in contact with their players.

For now, Vick has expressed no dissatisfaction with being placed under the franchise tag. As club president Joe Banner said the other day, Vick sees it as a "holding place" while the labor situation is resolved. Besides, Vick is in a difficult position. Unlike other players who have protested the tag - Jeremiah Trotter and Corey Simon, to name a couple of Eagles - Vick would look like a total ingrate for raising a fuss. The Eagles, after all, gave him the chance he now is enjoying.

But how far does that go? In 2004, Terrell Owens understood that his contract with the Eagles was written to protect the team from potential outbursts. A year later, that was out the window and Owens went nuclear in his effort to get a renegotiation done.

This next contract figures to be Vick's last big payday, his one shot to bounce back from bankruptcy and prison and rebuild his fortune. He has to walk the line between appearing grateful and surrendering his fair market value.

The Eagles, burned once by Owens, will need to protect themselves while not appearing to take too much advantage of Vick's circumstances.

It will be a delicate, sensitive negotiation. Maybe Oprah can help get it done.


Follow columnist Phil Sheridan on Twitter: @SheridanScribe. Read his blog at http://go.philly.com/philabuster or his recent columns at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

 

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